Category Archives: Networking

Finding the “net” in “networking”: reflections on the first BNI Expo

Has it been a week already?

The inaugural BNI Expo took place one week ago, on 9 March, and the response to this new local networking event and exhibition was tremendous.

But first a bit of background. Thirty-four local businesses make up BNI Highland, which is the Inverness-area chapter of BNI. The organisation is a worldwide networking and business referral organisation, and members of BNI Highland meet weekly.

The BNI Expo at Eden Court was an opportunity to showcase our businesses to the wider community, and we each invited our contacts to come along, meet the other BNI members, and find out more about our businesses. I spoke to more than 100 people that day, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. We also used the day to launch our new “Online Profile Builder” and are delighted at the response!

Each week at our Thursday morning breakfast meetings, BNI members each have a 60-second slot to share a bit of information about our business and request a specific referral from the other members. More often than not, someone around the table will be in a position to help make an introduction on our behalf.

I was a founder member of the BNI Highland chapter, and have been the Education Coordinator since we launch all those months ago. In my role, I introduce the weekly education slot, where a member shares a 4-minute presentation on a topic to help others in the room do business better. Sometimes, like today, the assigned member isn’t able to present their slot, so it has been a great boon to my impromptu speaking skills! Recent education topics have included how to make the most of your 60-second slot, what makes a good referral, and how to make the most of your 1-to-1 meetings with other members.

“One-to-ones” [121s] are the core of BNI; these one-hour meetings with another member enable each of us to learn more about our colleague’s business, and the types of referrals they are looking for. We learn to recognise opportunities where a referral would be suitable. And best of all, we get to know each other better.

Beyond the business passed, BNI has been the source of many new friendships for me and for my colleagues in the room.

Today, we got heartfelt thanks from one of our members, who credited the support he received from all of us, for helping him get through a difficult time personally and professionally.

Which was a helpful reminder: the ‘net’ impact of networking isn’t always just evident in the bottom line.

If you’d like more information about BNI, or how Bruce PR can help you to raise the profile of your business, ring me on 01462 216 226 or drop me a line. I’d be happy to chat.

Join Bruce PR at BNI Highland Expo 9 March 2017

Eden Court building

Do you love networking? Event if you don’t, you won’t want to miss this super event. Join Laura from Bruce Public Relations and her colleagues from BNI Highland for informal networking at BNI Highland’s inaugural Expo on Thursday 9th March from 11am to 7pm at Eden Court in Inverness. The event is invitation-only so please drop us a line if you would like a formal invitation. #BNIExpoHighland

Why we’re the most expensive PR firm in the north of Scotland

I use to say we were the most experienced PR firm in the north of Scotland. But I recently adjusted that. I now describe us as the most expensive PR firm in the north of Scotland.

When we first started up, we use to compete, loosely, on price. But the clients we got typically didn’t appreciate what we could do for them, and often, despite getting them great results [read: excellent media coverage, strategy insights, positioning wins] the next time they had something to announce they’d make us compete all over again.

Those aren’t the clients we want to work with. “Love them what love you” is our ethos now.

There are some things money can buy.

There are some things money can buy.

We are a PR firm, yes, but we are also stupendously creative business advisors, and talented copywriters, with experience and connections far and wide. We can put you in touch with someone halfway across the world you would never otherwise have encountered. We can develop a value proposition that will earn your business hundreds of thousands of pounds. We can craft the story of your business into the compelling tale it should be — something you simply don’t have the time or expertise to do.

We won’t compete on price. But the clients we have the pleasure of serving don’t complain about our fees. They are happy to pay them.

If you’d like to engage in something far more than a public relations exercise, give us a bell.

Creating membership magic: tactics for Toastmasters

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3pm Friday 11 November, 2016, Dubhlinn D71 Toastmasters Conference

Is your club struggling to build membership? Do you have a hard time getting visitors to come along? Do visitors come to your club, but not become members?

This workshop will give you the tips and tricks you need to attract visitors to your club and convert them to members. Laura Bruce, President of Inverness Toastmasters, will share her story of how her club went from only 7 paid-up members in April 2015, to 27 members just 18 months later.

She will share her ACE Formula ™ — a suite of online and offline tools that she used as VP Membership to attract  and engage visitors, and convert those visitors into Toastmasters. She will also share her expertise as founder of Bruce Public Relations to show how the humble media release can be a powerful tool to raise the profile of your club.

Who will benefit from this workshop?

Any one with a club that is struggling with low member numbers. Any club that attracts visitors but hasn’t been successful in converting them to members. Any club that is facing extinction.

Special relevance to: VPs Membership, VPs PR, Presidents, Area and Division Directors

Come along and learn how to put the ACE Formula ™ to work creating membership magic for  your club!

For more information: http://www.dubhlinn2016.com/laura-bruce

If you would like a copy of the slides, click here. 

The most expensive coffee you’ve had this year?

What's the true cost of this coffee? The answer may surprise you.

What’s the true cost of this coffee? The answer may surprise you.

If you’re like me, you’re constantly on the lookout for tips and tricks to be as productive as possible. We’re eager to find hacks that will help us save time, Apps to automate common tasks — keen to squeeze more out of each minute.

But when was the last time you questioned whether you should be doing that particular task at all? That’s what hit me today, when I was invited by a connection on LinkedIn to meet for coffee.

According to his message, he’s met me a few times already. My reflex is to accept. And normally, I would go ahead and arrange to meet him.

But today, when I received his invitation, my immediate reaction was: “What will this meeting cost me?”

Agreeing to meet him — and with no explicit goal for the meeting — will probably eat up at least an hour and a half. Normally, being sociable and open to the prospect of developing business, I would have accepted his invitation.

But today is different.

Over the past few months, it’s clear I have become more reluctant to accept invitations, and keener to stay at my desk — generating revenue.

This was reinforced by an interview I recently heard with Seth Godin: “I find I have a lot more time since I stopped watching television, and going to meetings.” What an eye-opener that was.

Is it just me, eager to stay put rather than take the opportunity to meet and deepen a recent connection, or are you also jealously guarding your time at your desk?

As a solo practitioner, if I am not generating revenue, nobody else is doing it for me. On days that I have meetings, I rarely get much done in the revenue generation front. And it’s not just the time I spend at the meeting, or the time it takes to travel to and from it.

For me, the biggest cost is the interruption. Getting into the flow of a new project, developing a good idea, outlining a kick-ass seminar or presentation — that is pure gold. To interrupt it to go for a coffee may cost you far more than you anticipate.

So, the next time you’re invited by a business connection to meet for coffee, ask yourself if you’re headed out for the most expensive coffee you’ve had his year.

Highland Business Women’s Club 2016 Awards, and how we can all be “shining stars”

Shining Star winner 2016 Laura Bruce of Bruce Public Relations, with Highland Business Women’s Club President Isla Cruden

On Friday night at the Highland Business Women’s Club 2016 Awards, I was named winner of the inaugural Shining Star award for Most Inspiring Woman in Business. It was a real honour, and not for the reasons you might expect.

Created by the Club this year, the reason this award means so much to me is because it recognises the kind of businesswoman that typified the finalists in this category, and one that that I would encourage every woman to be: someone who is not simply good in business, but who makes a point of helping others to succeed as well.

I believe we have an obligation to help others, not just in business, but in the communities in which we live. What good is it to be successful, if your success does not help light a path, and pave the way for others to follow?

With organisations like the public speaking club Toastmasters, I have been very gratified, watching as new members I have encouraged to get involved develop their skills, and start to feel more comfortable speaking to groups. With the Highland Business Women’s Club I have encouraged dozens of women to join the Club and hosted nearly as many at meetings. Several of them took my advice, and among the finalists and winners on Friday night were at least a dozen members I encouraged to join. How gratifying!

Finalists in the Highland Business Women's Club 2016 awards -- photo by Alison White Photography

Finalists in the Highland Business Women’s Club 2016 awards — photo by Alison White Photography

I would encourage anyone who is settled into their business, and competent at what they do, to start to look outside. Find ways to have an impact beyond your own business, to have an impact beyond your own bottom line. If you are lucky, like me you will see women who had been hanging back, start to get into the thick of things. You will see people make connections with each other that didn’t exist before you introduced them. But most of all, you will feel a warm glow that you don’t get just from making your clients happy. You will get the satisfaction of knowing that you have made an impact on someone and something completely apart from your commercial activities. Isn’t that what life’s all about?

We can all be “Shining Stars”. So give it a shot. The life you transform may be your own.

There’s more to successful networking than meets the eye (but not much more!)

A recent networking event hosted by Highland Business Women was hugely popular

A recent networking event hosted by Highland Business Women was hugely popular

During a break at a workshop last autumn, I was introduced to a man who provides a service my business requires and that I had been wondering how I would address. I was delighted to meet him. “Excellent timing!” I said, “Have you got a card?” He confessed he didn’t have any with him, so I gave him mine and he promised to follow up. It’s been three months, and I haven’t heard a peep. Unable to progress the sales process with him, I will look elsewhere. More than simply losing my business, he’s also lost out on accessing my extensive network of contacts.

Tip: if you want to reap the rewards of networking, Pick up the phone and follow up with a new contact

Tip: if you want to reap the rewards of networking, Pick up the phone and follow up with a new contact

How many times have you come away from a networking event loaded down with new business cards . . . but without any plan to do anything with them? You return to your office, and empty your pockets. Maybe you put an elastic band around the newly-collected cards before throwing them in your desk drawer. Perhaps you look up one of two of the people you just met on LinkedIn, maybe even send an email. Either way, I am sure you would agree, your follow-up could be characterised as a bit hit or miss.

When it comes to building an effective network, making a new contact is – literally – just the beginning. It’s what you do with that contact that determines whether the relationship will bear fruit. The problem is, you’ve no way of knowing at this stage, which contacts will lead anywhere.

Two years ago I attended a seminar on being more productive. I didn’t realise it at the time, but a handful of the attendees would become key members of my network. Four have become good friends, and two have become clients.

I didn’t attend the event with a plan. In retrospect, it was sheer luck than enabled me to transform these initial contacts into what are now close working relationships. What I am recommending to you is that you do not leave it to chance. Be purposeful. Do something systematic in the wake of these occasions, something that will ensure that each event becomes a catalyst to enrich and extend your personal network. What I urge you to do, is to follow up.

Not everyone you meet will become a client. Not everyone you encounter will be in a position to give you a job. But everyone you come across has the capacity to be of assistance to you – if they are so inclined.

To make the most of networking, start by shifting your thinking about the duration of the networking event. The conference or course or seminar – it doesn’t end when you leave the room. I propose that you’re not truly finished with it until you have captured the information on the business cards you collected, and done something with it.

Getting a business card and leaving it on your desk is akin to planting a seed, but not watering it. You’ve taken the first step by meeting someone and asking for their card. That effort will be meaningless unless you take the next step.

What I am suggesting is that there’s more to successful networking than meets the eye – but not that much more.

Let’s say you attend an event which lasts an hour and a half. You’ve already invested 90 minutes, not including travel time. I would wager that it will only take another 15 minutes – 30 minutes at the most – to dramatically boost the effectiveness of that initial 90-minute investment.

By spending just 15 minutes on follow-up – less time than it probably took to travel to and from the event – to send an email or a connection request, you have catapulted your initial investment to the next level, and are now in the arena where that investment has the potential to pay dividends. It’s once the follow-up is complete, that you have set the stage for something to develop with a contact you have made. It’s the watering after the planting, that will ensure that this new relationship has the conditions to grow.

As you can see, being an effective and successful networker only requires a marginal additional input of energy. Don’t let yourself down by not closing the circle after your next networking event. Proper follow-up will ensure that you not only extend your network, but that you get the maximum benefit from the time and money you invest in attending business events.

P.S. Next time you go to an event, make sure you bring more cards than you think you will require.

Laura Bruce is the founder of Bruce Public Relations Ltd. A talented networker, she would be happy to help you maximise the benefit of your networking.

Laura’s Top 10 Tips for Terrific Networking

Networking can be fun. It is also good for business.

Networking can be fun. It is also good for business.

As a natural networker, I sometimes forget that it doesn’t come so easily to everyone. And even natural networkers sometimes forget how to make the most of networking opportunities (see #10 for the one I often forget to do!).

To help you make the most of the time you spend at networking events, I have created my own “Top 10” list. Which of these have you already mastered, and which do you need to work on?

  1. Dress for success. Ensure that what you wear matches the image you wish to project. If you are attending a business function, dress in business attire. A solicitor’s attire will probably be more formal than a graphic designer’s. When in doubt, dress more formally rather than more casually.
  2. Come prepared. Bring more business cards than you think you will need. I always try to wear a jacket with pockets. My strategy is to put a supply of my own cards in the right-hand pocket, and place the cards I receive into the left. Keeps it simple!
  3. Name tag on the right side. This is a great little trick. If you are wearing your name tag on your right side, it makes it simple for someone you meet to glance at your name tag as they are shaking your hand. It’s especially good if someone you have met before has forgotten your name — they can sneak a glance as you shake hello!
  4. Smile. Even if you feel nervous, smile. Remember that while most people don’t like networking, everyone likes a good sport. A smile is a great way to “introduce” yourself to the room as you arrive: even before you have said a word, you have made a good impression.
  5. Adopt an open stance. Position yourself so that people feel they can approach you. If you are speaking to someone, don’t face them directly — it will look like you are having a private conversation. Face the room and be approachable.
  6. Ditch your colleagues. The premise behind networking is to extend your network. You don’t achieve anything by chatting to the people you work with.
  7. Be cheerful. Once you start speaking to someone, keep it light. You may be fuming about something, but a networking event is meant to be light-hearted. Steer clear of controversial subjects, and stick to current affairs and local goings-on.
  8. Don’t say, “So what do you do?” This gives the impression you are only interested in speaking to someone based on their job. Instead, open with something neutral and friendly. “How’s your week going?” is something everybody can answer, and works as a good opening line. It also allows someone to highlight something they feel may be of interest.
  9. Know when to move on. Once you have made contact, don’t cling to the person for the duration of the event. You are both there to make new contacts, so allow them — and yourself — to move on with a polite exit strategy. Extend your hand and shake theirs, saying “Good to meet you.” If you haven’t exchanged cards yet, this is the time to do so. Ask them for their card, and offer them yours. And move on.
  10. Tip number 10 is for “Follow up.” Once you get back to the office, take the stack of cards from your left pocket (you did ask for cards, didn’t you?) and spend a few minutes entering the details into your contact list. Send a short email to say you enjoyed meeting them. You may also want to see if they are on LinkedIn, and if so, send a connection request. If you promised to set up a meeting, now is the time to act on that promise.

There you have it — my handy guide to help you make the most of your networking. Was this list helpful? I’d love to hear. Drop me a line and let me know.

The PR you do every day (but may not be aware of!)

Networking events can be pleasant, once you are comfortable speaking. Just ask these three!

Networking events can be pleasant, once you are comfortable speaking. Just ask these three!

It’s a mouthful of a title, but bear with me: as a businessperson, every time you open your mouth, you are doing PR for your business. If this has come as a shock, don’t be discouraged.

What I am getting at, is that your business’s “PR” is not just what you formally do with your PR agency or marketing team. PR is far more than just the sum total of media releases you issue, the social media messaging you send, or the media coverage you generate.

As my late mentor Lou Cahill APR famously said, “You’ve got PR whether you like it or not.”

In essence, what Lou was saying is, you and your business have a reputation. The variable he highlighted, is the degree to which you manage it.

And like it or not, every time you open your mouth, you are contributing to the sum total of that reputation. I was struck by this at the BNI meeting in Inverness last week. I am a founder member of BNI Highland; BNI is a worldwide business networking organisation founded by Dr Ivan Misner. Something that I immediately realised is that the group’s format of a 60-second presentation by each member — at every meeting, every week — is something that strikes fear into a number of would-be members.

What I am noticing however, is that after even two or three meetings, some member’s presentation skills are improving. They are becoming more at ease with speaking to the group about their business. Some [read: Hamish Malcolm, Grant] are even making the most of these “mini-pitches” by incorporating humour and using inventive props. Well done to them!

They may not realise it, but each member’s incremental improvements in their weekly pitch, results in an improvement in their business’s PR, because we all go away with an improved image of their firm. Woefully, the converse is equally true: people who mumble their way through a pitch, speak too quietly or never get to the point are not doing their own, or their business’s, reputation any favours.

If the thought of making a 60-second pitch about your business fills you with dread, then Toastmasters is the place to replace your fear with confidence, and get the skills to make sure you communicate effectively. You’ll have the unexpected benefit of making some new friends as well.

But remember, every time you open your mouth, you are contributing to your business’s reputation. You owe it to yourself to do the best you can. If you haven’t got the skills to do the job well, the onus is on you to get them. Your business deserves it. Don’t let it down.

Toastmasters Inverness is hosting a social evening Wednesday 17th June at 7pm at the Glen Mhor Hotel in Inverness. If you are interested in learning more about the group, go along for dinner and to get a feel for what the group offers. Membership in Toastmasters may be the best, most cost-effective investment you can make in your business! Click here to find out more about the dinner Wednesday evening.

Did you know it was Women’s Entrepreneurship Day?

Untitled design (1)I didn’t. I am a woman, and an entrepreneur, but I had no idea about this celebration of women’s enterprise. That is, until my pal Nicky Marr posted on Facebook about being included in a compendium of women entrepreneurs published on the Women’s Enterprise Scotland website here.

According to their website:

WES plays a vital role in the promotion of women’s enterprise, through the media, and across the wider community. We provide spokeswomen, role models and contributors for the broadcast media and the press, for events, conferences, seminars and presentations.

We champion women-led business from every sector across the entire country. We challenge existing perceptions to gain recognition of the economic importance of all women’s enterprise, whether micro business, SME or stock market listed multinational.

We encourage courage, confidence and self-belief that women-led business is a positive, rewarding and achievable option for women everywhere, no matter the scale of their enterprise ambition. And we cheer on those agencies already providing gender specific business development, and cite best practice wherever we find it.

We’re active digitally, and use social media and online platforms to promote women’s enterprise, to share information and learn from each other.

#WESchampions

They sound like a great organisation, but I hadn’t heard about them, either!

And then it struck me: the problem with entrepreneurship — besides the difficulty I have spelling it correctly — is that as an entrepreneur, running a (thankfully!) busy business, I am not on their radar. (I did get in touch with them subsequently, to do just that.)

So, not only did I not know about WES, I also wasn’t aware of the global celebration that is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. Apparently, it’s a very big deal. Complete with a huge global sponsor (and former client), pwc. Here’s a link to the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day website: http://www.womenseday.org and a hashtag: #WomensEDay.

This whole thing of not being aware of something that is specifically targeted at you brings home the awareness that, when you are busy running your own business *and* haven’t sought public funding to start or perpetuate that business, you simply aren’t going to be on the mailing lists for a lot of things that people in the public sector may be aware of. That is to say, the very people trying to target you, are not aware of you.

I am delighted that Nicky Marr is part of my network. Here's the two of us with her gold medal at a recent networking event in Inverness

I am delighted that Nicky Marr is part of my network. Here’s the two of us with her gold medal at a recent networking event in Inverness

Which brings me to my point: the importance of networking. I never would have heard about Women’s Enterprise Scotland today if I hadn’t been a part of Nicky’s network. Hopefully, having now contacted them, and tweeted about Women’s Enterprise Day, they will know about me. Moreover, my network of Twitter followers and followers of our Bruce PR Facebook page will also become aware of this organisation. Because ultimately, it’s up to every one of us to help our fellow entrepreneurs get a hand up. So after this post is published, I will also put it on LinkedIn, where — ideally —  another group of fellow entrepreneurs will also see it.

Happy Women’s Entrepreneurs Day everyone! And thanks Nicky!